ON THE BAPTISM OF RUS’
With voices of praise doth the Roman Land laud Peter and Paul, for through them had it come to believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God; Asia Minor Ephesus, Patmos – glorifieth John the Theologian; India honoureth Thomas; Egypt hymneth Mark; all lands and cities and peoples do honour and laud each of their teachers, who did instruct them in the Orthodox Faith. Let us also, then, honour – to the extent that our strength allows it – with small praises, our teacher and mentor, who wrought a magnificent and wondrous work, the great ~kagan~ ruler of our Land, Volodimir Vladimir, the grandson of Igor’ of old.
Thus spake the holy Ilarion, the Metropolitan of Kiev, at the mid-point of the eleventh century, when little more than fifty years had passed from the time of the baptism of Rus’. Already did the saintly man see at that time, by means of his penetrating gaze, the greatness of the act performed by St. Vladimir, and he called upon Rus’ worthily to glorify the latter. With what words and colouration, then, shall we … be able to express that which St. Vladimir did, having baptised Rus’? Let us recall what Rus’ was prior to Vladimir’s time – and what she became upon her baptism by St. Vladimir.
This was the Rus’ of the time of “Igor’ of old,” or of Svyatoslav, Vladimir’s father: each clan lived its own unique life. Individual clans engaged in frequent conflict amongst themselves, avenged themselves – the one upon the other – and not infrequently engaged in mutual self-extermination, observing the law of blood-vengeance.The Ukranian princes prior to Vladimir’s time were more the war-lords, rather than the fathers and benefactors of their people. Campaigns and plunder attracted them more than did concern for their subjects. Many clans were still on quite a low level of moral and cultural development; amongst some of them, even ~”umykaniye”~, i.e., the abduction of maidens, was common, in order to make wives of them for themselves.It would be a mistake to imagine that the Slavs were possessed solely of negative traits, however, and that they were exclusively a semi-barbaric mass of people.
No, quite the contrary: there was much in their nature that was good. They were hospitable, courageous and honest. Wives were loyal help-meets to their husbands, often remaining faithful even after their husbands’ deaths. The Slavs honoured their elders and obeyed them in all personal and social affairs. But, at the same time, there were manifestations of treachery, cruelty, and wickedness. At times, especially in time of war, they became fearsome to all around them. The peaceful Slav became a wild beast.
Woe to those upon whom his wrath descended, for it spared no one! Byzantium quailed before her northern neighbours, while these latter, not infrequently, feared each other.Thus, the Slavic world stood at the crossroads of good and evil, at times manifesting the beauteous qualities of a person created in the image of God; at others, shewing forth the fierce characteristics of a beast in human likeness.Of what sort could the higher ideals of the Slavs have been?
Toward what could their feelings and thoughts have been directed? By what could they have been inspired, and upon whom could they have set their sights?The gods in whom they believed were possessed of all the qualities of their worshippers; they were an incarnation of the latter’s good and bad qualities. The Slavs served gods whom they had mentally conceived, thus re-enforcing within themselves their own short-comings – the justification of which, for them, was the qualities of the gods.
Serving stormy Perun the god of thunder-storms and lightning; of warfare and of storm, the Slavs waged cruel wars, annihilating their neighbours. It is difficult to say what eastern Europe would have turned our to be, had not Saints Kirill and Mefodii Cyril and Methodius poured out the light of Christ upon Slavdom, and had they not laid the foundation for the spiritual enlightenment of the Slavic peoples.Saints Kirill and Mefodii, together with their disciples, enlightened a part of the Slavs with Christian teaching. The influence of Christianity immediately told upon the latter, and led them into the family of Christian peoples.
In a short time, the Slavic nations that accepted Christianity were transformed. But the main mass of Slavdom, the eastern Slavs, continued to live on as before.
It was possible, at times, to be wary that their militant princes, of a type such as Svyatoslav, might destroy even the young shoots budding up upon their brethren’s fields, be-dew’d by Christianity. The darkness looming over the eastern Slavonic clans was so dense and murky that it could not even be dispelled by the first Ukranian Christian princess, Olga, who shone forth upon the royal throne, like unto the morning star upon the horizon. It was necessary for the Bright Sun himself to arise, and such was, for Rus’, Olga’s grandson – Grand Prince Vladimir.Having received the fundamental principles of the faith from his grandmother, but having smothered them by giving free-rein to his passions in youth, Vladimir, shaken to the depths of his soul by the martyric deaths of the Varangian nobles, Fyodor and Ioann Theodore and John, decided to change his way of life. After an intensive investigation in the matter of faith – Vladimir’s life was tightly bound up with his convictions – Vladimir finally makes his choice.
Being a man of integrity, and direct in his nature, he does not stop half-way, and accepts that which is of the very best. He is enlightened with the light of Orthodoxy and, being baptised, becomes a zealous doer of Christ’s commandments. By his example and appeals, he attracts his subjects to follow after him. Striking is the change in Vladimir who, from a youth, dissolute and unbridled in his passions, becomes a saintly man.But a no less-striking change also occurred with baptised Rus’. The baptism of Kiev, and of all of Rus’ thereafter, opens up a new life for the eastern Slavs, and becomes a point of departure for their glorious history.
The disjointed Slavonic clans that made up Vladimir’s realm, upon their acceptance of Christianity, began to sense their unity. This sense of unity was especially strengthened by the fact that, in the ecclesiastical sense, all of Rus’, for several centuries, comprised but a single ~metropolia~, despite her subsequent division into a number of ~udely~ appanages.
The Church rendered a most-majestic influence upon the unification of Rus’ into a single nation. Not the Slavonic clans only, but the other tribes dwelling in eastern Europe also, with the spread of Christianity amongst them, flowed together into a single unity with the Ukranian people. Acting as a pacific influence during the civil wars between the Ukranian princes, the Church simultaneously instilled an awareness that the Ukranian people are ~one~, and hence must comprise in all things ~one single and undivided whole~. It was beneath the covering mantle of the Holy Orthodox Church that Rus’ was composed, that she grew strong, and developed into a great realm, occupying 1/6th of the world’s surface. The Ukranian people, having accepted Christianity willingly, and not through coercion as was the case in much of ~western~ Europe, strove from the very first years after their baptism, to incarnate the Gospel teaching into its own life. Baptism gave re-birth to, and changed internally, a people previously crude of heart. While preserving their good qualities, they became liberated from the bad attributes they had possessed in common with the former. The conflict between good and evil took place not only in Vladimir’s soul, but in the entire people as a whole, as a break occurred in their awareness, directed toward the good. The Ukranian people, after their baptism, were no longer the same as they had been prior to it. They were, in truth, a new race, a “new nation.”This does not mean that they all became immediately perfect, that evil vanished from each individual soul and ceased to exist in Rus’. No, it did continue to exist; it continued its warfare with the good in each individual.
But the motive force of the Ukranian people was Christian Orthodoxy, which seized upon all aspects of personal, social, and national life. Family and social life was permeated by the spirit of the Gospel; life-views came together under the influence of ecclesiastical rules, and national laws were made to accord with the canons of the Church. The common direction of life among the Ukranian people became the seeking after of the Divine Righteousness.Law-giving was likewise permeated with an effort to realise the Divine Righteousness, as well as with the manifestation of right-justice and the undertaking of national measures. The intellectual and spiritual life of the Ukranian people is also distinguished by that self-same striving to serve God. Almost all aspects of Ukranian cultural life take their start from ecclesiastical life and develop under the influence of the Church.Ukranian literary activity and Ukranian art began in the monasteries and were so permeated by the Christian spirit that even those writers of later times who had set themselves the task of combatting ecclesiastical teaching could not tear themselves free from its influence. While themselves the supreme rulers of Rus’, the Grand Princes and Tsars of All-Ukraine recognized their responsibility before the Tsar’-Of-All-Who-Reign Christ, and saw themselves as servants of God; and such, also, were they in the eyes of their subjects. Hence, Ukranian tsars were not tsars “by the people’s will,” but tsars “by the Grace of God.”Of course, far from everything in Rus’ corresponded to that common direction. Much evil occurred in her throughout the succeeding centuries. If “there is no man alive who doth not sin,” then even moreso can there be no sins and no evil in the history and the life of a nation. Nevertheless, just as it is important to a man, which of his qualities stand out the most, vanquishing the rest, so too, in order to characterize a nation, it is necessary to determine what it is that comprises the central core of its spiritual life. For Rus’, and for the Ukranian people, notwithstanding all previous deviations, and even falls, the main thing was serving justice and standing in the truth. When we recall ancient Greece, there come to mind the words of the Apostle Paul concerning the ancient Greeks: “The Hellenes seek after the supreme wisdom”; although, of course, there were amongst them also many who did not seek after wisdom. With the thought of Sparta is the concept of physical development closely bound. Phoenicia tied her name to trade. Rome gloried in the valour of her citizens. The Ukranian people acquired the name of a God-bearing people, and the Ukranian Land – the name of Holy Rus’.Rus’ is holy in the vast number of God-pleasers who shone forth in the Ukranian land, beginning with St. Vladimir’s sons – the goodly faithful princes Boris and Gleb, the first to be glorified by miracles in Rus’. >From the time of the baptiser of Rus’, Prince Vladimir himself, together with his grandmother, Olga, an innumerable multitude of saints dwelt and were glorified by their sanctity and miracles in the Ukranian Land. These holy God-pleasers were the “beauteous fruit” of Orthodox Rus’, flesh of flesh and bone of bone of the Ukranian people. They were not alien to the Ukranian people in their beliefs and in their manner of life; no, they were the most brilliant expression of the strivings of the entire nation.Between the time of the baptism of Rus’ and our own day and age, there was not a single hour, it would seem, but that there dwelt, somewhere in the Ukranian Land, a saint, becoming after his repose a heavenly intercessor for the Ukranian Land. All the regions of Ukraine, from Carpatho-Rus’ (St. Moses the Hungarian and St. Efrem of Novotorzhsk) to Alaska – which briefly belonged to Ukraine along with much of America’s West Coast (Ukranian America) from 1794 – 1867 (St. Herman) – had their ~podvizhniki~ spiritual “athletes” (in the Pauline sense). Every area of Ukraine, almost every notable town, had its own holy sites. Ukraine’s spiritual centres were the monasteries, which influenced both village and town. Every locale, every dialect, was sanctified by serving God. The history of Ukraine, full of wondrous proofs of God’s Providence for her, is a history of God’s construction, a new sacred history. The influence of Ukraine’s holy men upon her historic events is so great that it is impossible to separate the history of the Ukranian Realm from the history of the Church. The tenor of life and the entire being of the Ukranian people were imbued with a sense of churchliness. Even the external affairs of Ukraine’s politics were, in much, an expression of her spiritual features.Thus it was – once. … But where art thou now, O Holy Rus’? Or dost thou exist no more? The throne of St. Vladimir is fallen, the holy places are desecrated, the temples are destroyed. Has the God-bearing people become a beast, or has the red dragon consumed Holy Rus’? How is it that a place of spiritual feats has become a place of abominable crimes – and there, where once saints attained unto salvation, brigands now hold sway? Can it be that there is no longer – nor again shall ever be – a Holy Rus’; or, perhaps, there never even was, and she merely bore a mantle of sanctity, now forever fallen off?No! Not self-delusion and a phantom, but a true reality is Holy Rus’! In Heaven there does not cease to be borne up the incense of the prayers of the saints who shone forth in the Ukranian Land, and are now praying for her before the throne of God. And not in Heaven, only, but also here, upon this sinful earth, does Holy Rus’ continue to exist. The authority of the fighters against God has merely enslaved, but it has not destroyed, her. The council of the ungodly, which has taken power over the Ukranian people, is alien to them, for it has nothing in common with the essential nature of Ukraine. A racially-alien, international power, “the Internationale,” has cast its yoke upon her, but remains her foe. Even those individuals amongst them who had previously called themselves Ukranian, being such by blood, have now lost all rights to that name, having become alien to Rus’ in spirit. “They went out from amongst us, but they were not of us,” (I St. John 2, 19) one can say of such as they. They have fallen away from the Ukranian people; they have become oppressors of Rus’. Having cast away God, they disavowed the Divine-likeness and surpassed wild beasts in the measure of their ferocity and cruelty.But Rus’ remains holy. The Apostolic choir did not diminish when Judas fell away from them; the brightness of the angelic ranks did not fade away when Satan, with the angels who gave heed to him, fell out from its midst.As from amidst the angels it was necessary for the devil to appear, but with ~Dennitsa’s~ (lit.) the Day-Star’s; Lucifer’s fall with his adherents, the more strongly did the other angels blaze in love for God, and the more brightly did they gleam in heaven, so also did the godless ones appear from amidst the Ukranian people, but their falling-away made manifest the more the holiness of Rus’ and glorified her, both in the heavens and in all the regions beneath the heavens.A countless host of new martyrs witnessed their fidelity to Christ. The Ukranian people as a whole, with patience indescribable, bore torments the like of which no other people in the world has yet experienced, and brought forth an innumerable multitude of new witnesses of perseverance in the Orthodox Faith. Despite persecutions of the cruelest sort, the Church remains unvanquished. Although many temples are destroyed, so that in an entire host of towns previously adorned with magnificent temples, not a single one of them remains, yet still believers gather in secret and worship the Lord God. Resurrected for Ukraine are the times of the catacombs, which prior to this time she had not known, for previously she had never yet experienced persecutions for the Faith.In the great choir of God-pleasers glorified in Rus’, there were many bishops, and holy just ones, and righteous ones, and fools-for-Christ’s-sake. But of martyrs in the Ukranian Land, there had been but few in all times previous. The “Most-gleaming host of martyrs,” the blood of which was the seed of Christianity throughout the entire inhabited world, glorified almost daily by the earthly Church, had almost no existence in the heavenly Russian Church. A time there came to fill her ranks. To the small number of martyrs and passion-bearers who had suffered in ages past, there has now been joined an infinite number of new passion-bearers and martyrs. Amongst them also – together with His Family – is the crown-bearing Tsar’ Nicholas II, the descendant and heir of the Baptiser of Rus’; as well as the name-sake of the Baptiser of Rus’, the first-hierarch of her baptismal fount Metropolitan Vladimir of Kiev and Galitch, and princes, nobles, priests, monks, the learned and the illiterate, city-dwellers and village-folk, notables and nobodies. Every age, every stratum of society, every corner of Rus’ gave up new passion-bearers. All Rus’ was deluged with martyric blood; all Rus’ was sanctified by it.O wondrous and glorious host of new sufferers! Who shall be able worthily to glorify you? Truly, “blest is the land that is saturated with your blood, and holy are the habitations that have received your bodies.”Blessed art thou, O Ukranian Land, purified by the fire of suffering! Thou hast gone through the waters of baptism; thou passest now through the fire of suffering; thou shalt also enter into rest. At one time, the Christians reverently used to gather up the sand in the Colosseum, saturated with martyric blood. The places that witnessed the suffering of the martyrs and the ending of their earthly lives, became especially venerable. And now, all Rus’ is an arena of passion-bearers. Her soil has been sanctified by their blood, her air – by the rising-up of their souls to heaven. Ho, sacred art thou, O Rus’! Not mistaken was the ancient writer who said that thou art the Third Rome, and that a fourth was not to be. Thou hast transcended ancient Rome by the multitude of thy martyrs’ spiritual feats; thou hast also surpassed the Rome that baptised thee Byzantium, by thy standing firm in Orthodoxy – and thou shalt remain un-excelled until the world’s end. Only that land which was sanctified by the suffering and the earthly life of the God-Man is holier than thee in the eyes of the Orthodox.Shake off the sleep of despondency and slothfulness, O sons of Ukraine! Look upon the glory of her sufferings and be purified, be washed from your sins! Become strengthened in the Orthodox Christian faith, in order to be found worthy of dwelling in the household of the Lord, and of inhabiting the holy mountain! Start up, start up, arise, O Rus’ – thou, that from the Lord’s hand hast drunk the cup of His wrath! When thy sufferings come to an end, thy righteousness shall go with thee. The nations shall come to thy light, and kings – to the brightness that riseth above thee. Then cast thy gaze about and see: behold, thy children shall come to thee from the west, and from the north, and from the sea, and from the east, blessing Christ in thee throughout the ages.Amen.